Bellevue, Maryland is one of the nation’s few remaining historically African American maritime communities in Talbot County, Maryland. The history of Bellevue is at risk for accelerated erasure. Within the past 20 years, Bellevue lost landmark public buildings and the retirement of its independent Zip Code. A barely visible roadside marker is the only indication that Bellevue was once a historically African American community.
But the biggest threat to date is the recent acquisition of a tract of land along the Tred Avon River by Paquin Design Build (Grasonville, MD) with the intent to build 14, $1.5 million dollar homes along the shoreline.
The Builder chose to name this development, situated in the heart of Bellevue “North of Oxford”. Bellevue constituents were unaware of these actions until advertisements appeared in media outlets.
A community meeting was held at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on April 26 where constituents presented their concerns to Mr. Paquin. Leading concerns were the development’s name, disregard for and erasure of Bellevue’s black culture and history, environmental concerns, and the economic impact on elderly residents. Most egregiously, and an affront to Bellevue, the developer chose to name the proposed community “North of Oxford with”, the intent to establish an independent homeowners association, turn a private community road into a driveway for three of the new homes, and to place physical barriers to set it apart from Bellevue.
Mr. Paquin did not concede much, if anything, but indicated that he might consider changing the name, planting saplings to replace the 100+-year-old trees he intends to cut down, paving a private road for access by his construction equipment, and renaming the streets in favor of former Bellevue residents.
However, the property is still marketed as North of Oxford on Zillow, and the street address for a few of the homes is listed as Orchard Terrace, though the residents who currently live on Orchard Terrace have not consented to turn a street that allows all residents of Bellevue to easily access the waterfront into a private driveway.
Multiple Organizations & Community Members are Fighting for Bellevue
All of this is happening amidst major projects to preserve Bellevue’s rich history.
The Bellevue Passage Museum + Water’s Edge Museum
The creation of the Bellevue Passage Museum from a rescued historical property in Bellevue is underway. Work for the museum is in progress, funded by the African American Heritage Preservation Program, cash, and in-kind donations. In collaboration with Barbara Paca, Ph.D., and Philip Logan, founders of the Water’s Edge Museum in Oxford, MD, the two museums will create an immersive educational experience in African American History on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for students of all ages.
The Black Life in Bellevue Field School July 5-29, 2022 is a partnership with Bellevue Village and Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society. Led by Michael J. Chiarappa, Ph.D., and Janet Sheridan, the Field School is supported by the Vernacular Architecture Forum and the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture through funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The field school attracted domestic and international undergraduate and graduate students.
Residents & Neighbors of Bellevue Maryland
Bellevue residents share a strong sense of community and regard it as a peaceful, beautiful, historic village. A grassroots movement has started to take action to preserve the character and culture of Bellevue. The goal is for accountability from the developer(s) to the goals and vision of the Bellevue Master Plan, and that “improvements preserve the village’s character that will attract a new generation of devoted residents”.
Currently, many residents of Bellevue and surrounding neighborhoods have banded together to fight this erasure of history and this new threat to the Eastern Shore’s delicate watershed environment. A task force with subcommittees has been formed to take action.
The Disappearing Roots of Bellevue’s Legacy
Bellevue, Maryland is one of the nation’s few remaining historically African American maritime communities. This village of approximately one square mile or four city blocks is rich in history.
Once a self-sufficient African American Community with a school (a Rosenwald School), place of worship (St. Luke’s United Methodist Church), general store, post office, four restaurants, Knights of Pythias Lodge, recreation center, gas station, and doctor’s office. The major employers were the Valiant Packing House and Cannery, and the renowned African American-owned Turner Seafood Company.
With the exception of the William H. Valliant Packing House and Cannery, and the General Store, all businesses were owned by African Americans. This small community was home to a baseball league, Boy Scout troop, and produced an above-average percentage of black college graduates that went on to serve the community and our country in the military, as primary and secondary educators, health care workers, clergy, and business owners.
Dr. Dennis M. De Shields is founder of Bellevue Passage Museum and fourth-generation Bellevue resident